With household budgets required to stretch much further these days, there's greater scrutiny over what's added to the weekly shopping list. Thrifty, nutritious and versatile ingredients are in, while expensive, one-meal items are out. Using that filter, you'll want to add oats to your trolley.
We asked CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair to share some creative ways to get the most out of this frugal food. And when you're ready to head to the supermarket, we've sifted through more than 70 different types in our porridge and oats review, focusing on their nutritional content and cost, to help you find the product that suits you.
Why choose oats?
This naturally gluten-free whole grain is great for both you and your budget.
"Oats are packed with B vitamins, vitamin E, protein and minerals," says CHOICE food and nutrition expert Shadia Djakovic.
"Eating oats is associated with heart health benefits in adults and promotes a wealth of gut bacteria growth that may protect against obesity and metabolic disease," she says.
If that's not reason enough to add oats to your shopping list, you'll be won over by the low price tag of this humble grain. With 100g of oats costing as little as 17 cents (for Aldi's Goldenvale Australian Oats), it's a convincing argument for feeding a family for less.
Oats have always been a popular choice for breakfast, and for good reason. "Oats are low GI, which means their carbohydrate is slowly absorbed into your system, providing you with energy for hours after you've eaten, which can help you to feel fuller for longer," says Shadia.
The satisfying texture and comforting flavour of oats also make them a perfect breakfast food.
"Porridge is the best way to eat oats, especially with the cooler mornings coming," says Fiona. She recommends adding seasonal fruit and honey for a warming treat or soaking them overnight in apple juice to make a healthy bircher muesli topped with grated apple, cinnamon and toasted coconut.
For those who prefer a liquid breakfast, try adding oats to your morning smoothie or milkshake. This is particularly good for ensuring kids head off to school with full bellies.
It's easy to weave the goodness of oats throughout your day by making delicious snacks to stave off hunger and the temptation of less wholesome food choices. Try adding oats to protein balls, baking oat slices, or making your own muesli bars with rolled oats, dates and peanut butter.
Oats can be added incognito to baked goods simply by replacing half the quantity of wheat flour with oats or oat flour, which you can make yourself by grinding oats in a food processor. This is a great way to boost the nutritional value of baked treats and add a little fibre to balance out sweets.
Sub in your homemade oat flour to make biscuits, muffins and pancake batters. Baked oats tossed with sugar and nuts also makes a delicious topping for seasonal fruit crumbles.
With their nutritional benefits hard to ignore but their flavour easy to disguise, oats can be used to increase your child's fibre intake without them suspecting a thing. Plus, adding oats to bulk out meals will help your more expensive ingredients, such as mince or cheese, go further.
"A great way to hide oats in kids' meals is by using an oat flour or finely ground oats. You can either buy oat flour or make you own by grinding in a food processor or blender," says Fiona. "Then add the oats to meatballs or burger patties as a binder." Fiona says you can also use coarsely ground oats as a replacement for breadcrumbs on chicken or fish, or even mix with cheese as a topping for gratins or mac and cheese.
Aldi's Goldenvale Oats were the cheapest product in our porridge and oats review, closely followed by the Woolworths Australian Oats.
While oats may be more commonly regarded as a breakfast food, they can also stretch to savoury meals. Added to vegetable slices or used to make breads, they can level up the nutritional content of many meals. As a grain, oats can also be used much like rice and make for a delicious Asian-style oatmeal, or congee, when simmered in stock and flavoured with onion, ginger, garlic and plumped out with egg or poached chicken.
For dairy avoiders, making your own oat milk is a satisfying cinch and far cheaper than buying premade versions. Simply blend oats with water and strain to release the 'milk' to enjoy in coffee, tea, smoothies and milkshakes. Remember to pop the discarded oats in your compost or worm farm.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.